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National MP admits civilian casualties during SAS raid

Below is the full transcript from our interview with National MP Jami-Lee Ross on The Wire today. As far as we know, Ross is the first National MP to admit that civilian casualties did occur during the 2010 raid of the two villages in Afghanistan by the SAS. Listen to the full podcast of the interview here

Tess: First up, let's talk about Nicky Hager's book, ‘Hit and Run’. So the Government is dismissing the allegations in the book, even though Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson are credible journalists. Why is this?

Jami-Lee Ross: Not dismissing. The issues at hand that were in the book were investigated by the International ISAF Force, the New Zealand Defence Force stand by their claims that no inappropriate actions were taken by the New Zealand SAS.  The New Zealand SAS - they’re professionals. They are extraordinarily trained individuals and they conduct themselves appropriately, and where there were questions raised if there were civilian casualties they were appropriately investigated, and it was found that The New Zealand Defence Force and the New Zealand SAS did not act inappropriately. And I think that we as a Government and as a country need to back our soldiers. We need to back the people that put themselves in harm’s way, and Nicky Hager does come at these issues with a particular viewpoint. But, in typical Nicky Hager style, he didn't ask for comments from the New Zealand Defence Force, he didn't ask for comments from the Government, he didn't give anyone an advance copy to be able to respond to the allegations. You have to ask yourself, if you are a credible journalist, and you are interested in getting to the bottom of the situation and getting facts in front of the public, “why didn't he ask for comment before hand, why didn't he seek assurances before publishing?” He didn't. That suggests to me that perhaps he's not quite interested in getting to the facts of the matter, but it has been investigated and we stand by the New Zealand Defence Force's actions which were found not to be inappropriate.

Tess: So we've heard from ex-defence Minister Wayne Mapp this week, who's conceded that civilians may have died in the raid attack. What do you make of this U-turn from his previous position in 2011 when he said no civilians were killed?

Jami-Lee Ross:  He's also indicated quite strongly in his comments that this is a difficult situation, they're operating in a war-zone, they're operating with the best information they have at the time and he also stands by the investigation which found the New Zealand Defence Force did not act inappropriately. I can't comment on what he might've said at the time, or what information he was acting on, he made those comments. But I have seen his comments recently where he's heavily and strongly indicated that he supports the New Zealand Defence Force, and he supports the fact that they were doing what was appropriate at the time, and that is being found after an investigation to be the right thing. Look, it's unfortunate when any civilians end up as casualties, and I think our Defence Force are highly trained to ensure as far as possible, there are never any civilian casualties. We go into these situations to try and do good, to help a country, in this case Afghanistan. To try and help the Afghani people to recover after some devastating series of events over a number of years. We went there to try and assist, we went there to try help them rebuild. And the SAS were there to protect our provincial reconstruction team, which were there to help and assist with reconstruction in Afghanistan. We went there to help people. We went there to do humanitarian work. We didn't go there to try and target civilians. It is a war-zone though. It's extremely unfortunate what has happened, but our New Zealand soldiers acted appropriately with the information they had and the circumstances they were in.

Ximena: But even though - I mean - so obviously they didn't go there with the intention to kill civilians, are you admitting that this is a possibility that this could've happened?

Jami-Lee Ross: Ximena, it's a war-zone. I wish there was no war, and I wish there were no war-zones, and I wish there was no chance ever that civilians would end up as casualties. But I also know that our people were there to assist the Afghani people. Our people were there to help with reconstruction. And our people also need defending, and our people also need supporting. And in a situation like that, in a situation that neither of us I think have been or would ever expect to be in, there were some tough, in-the-moment decisions that had to be made with the best information they had available. It turns out there were some civilian casualties. It is extremely unfortunate, but did our people act appropriately? Has it been investigated? The answer to those questions is yes. And we should therefore be supporting our New Zealand troops that put themselves in harm’s way for our country.

Ximena: But that's the thing, that's why this second investigation is necessary though, right? Because the initial investigation said that there were no civilian casualties, but now we’re saying “Well actually maybe this might've happened, it wasn't our intention, but it could’ve happened, it's a warzone”. Is that not the reason why a second investigation needs to take place?

Jami-Lee Ross: An investigation was taken place by international forces. And we can't investigate other nation's action either. That is done by the appropriate body, the ISAF investigation that was done. Our forces are found to have acted appropriately, and we support them.

Ximena: But New Zealand was leading this raid though, so even if another country was responsible for the deaths of these civilians, New Zealand was in charge of that raid.

Jami-Lee Ross: Ximena, I don't have any more information that what I've given you. What I know is that it was a war zone. What I know is that there was an investigation into the raid. What I know is that our people were acting on the best information that they have available, and what I know is that our forces were found to have acted appropriately and we should be supporting them in that situation. I don't have any further information. I'm not the Minister of Defence; I'm not the minister that's in charge of security. I have the same information available publicly that the rest of us do. And the information that is publicly available is that it has been investigated thoroughly by the appropriate groups and our forces were found to have acted appropriately.